A chronicle of my Christmas time in Caracas

Translated from my the previous blog post, written in Spanish

I

I returned from Caracas with my heart broken in pieces. I feel a tremendous frustration at seeing how my closest circle cannot understand (or perhaps does not want to see) what is happening in my second home, Venezuela.

Yes… unfortunately, in my part of the world people are more aware of what the Three Wise Men will bring this year or how successful the Christmas shopping has been, rather than really knowing what is happening in the rest of the world.

‘The situation is bad, isn’t it?’, ‘I read that Venezuela was the second most violent country in the world … how sad!’, ‘Did they find you well? ‘What did you eat for Christmas?’ Usually the conversation does not go beyond these innocent questions.

‘Out of sight out of mind’, I think to myself.

I have been traveling to Venezuela since 2009. Some call me brave, others crazy, others that I am an unconscious revolutionary person … and others simply don’t really care much about what I do in Latin America.

Venezuela has stolen my heart. This magnificent country has taught me to be strong, to be brave and to appreciate every little moment that life gives you. In addition, this country has given me the opportunity to pursue my career with more passion, which is something I am grateful for.

Venezuela has given me a new family that has protected me even more than mine in Barcelona. Venezuela gave me the opportunity to meet my partner and allowed me to understand that all families, regardless of their backgrounds, are similar but different at the same time. I have made friendships that will last forever and I have seen and experienced situations that I hope not to see ever again. And yet, Venezuela has my heart stolen mainly by its people.

But by far, this last trip has been the most bitter one.

I have seen hunger, I have felt insecurity and I have suffered from shortages of food, medicines and cash due to high inflation rates -Venezuela closed 2016 exceeding 700%- making life difficult for millions of people.

Venezuela is a concealed dictatorship, where impunity and corruption are no longer hidden. People act anarchically in almost all the spectacles of city life, with an apathy that is destroying the environment and the whole city. The streets are dirty, neglected and in total decay; buildings are falling apart, there are no basic services (such as water, essential for living) and the atmosphere looks like a post-apocalyptic film.

‘Caracas seems The Walking Dead, doesn’t it?’ says Claudia joking.

People are skinny … very skinny. In a year, every inhabitant could have lost 5 kg or more. Popularly, this fact is already called: ‘Maduro’s diet’.

I can’t get out of my head an image that made my heart shrink. Being myself in a cab, on my way to Colinas de Bello Monte nearby El Recreo shopping centre, in the slowing lane of the highway, I saw a father with his young son (being this one less than 6 years old) holding a bag of garbage while the father was rummaging among the other bags to find something to eat. A sad and devastating image.

I’ve seen a lot of people digging in the trash but the picture of the boy staring at his father is something I would never forget.

Another of the current scenarios that are commonly seen in the capital are the interminable lines of people in the street. Lines not only are seen in supermarkets to find (regulated) products such as toys, pasta or sugar but in bakeries to buy some bread, in pharmacies to look for medicines, shampoo or toothpaste and in liquor stores, to palliate hunger with alcohol. There are queues even in banks and ATMs as there is shortage of cash across the country.

Meanwhile, the streets of the capital are full of wrecked private cars with taxi warnings on their front glasses, buses in very poor conditions filled with passengers (as many avoid taking the metro because of insecurity) and thousands of motorcycle riders (feared by most caraqueños) to which no one knows whether they are armed or not.

There have been so many violent assaults from people on motorcycles that everyone is on full alert.

 

II

My partner and I arrived in Caracas on Friday 16th. After an intense weekend of reunions with his family, I decided to visit my other family on Monday 19th and give them the gifts I brought from Barcelona: olive oil, shampoo, sugar, sweets and a little pleasure to celebrate Christmas: Spanish ham.

Pedro picked me up in his car because the 15 minutes’ route that would take on foot from my place to theirs is not safe anymore. A few years ago, I used to do it every day. Nowadays, I do not dare.

On our way, we stopped by at a local greengrocer, near the Unicasa supermarket in Bello Monte, and a middle-age woman came in frightened because there had been a shooting in the supermarket queue. “That’s what Maduro wants to get,” the lady exclaimed.

No one in the greengrocers was flustered. No one showed any signs of indignation or fear on their faces. Not even myself! At that moment, I realized that I acted like a Venezuelan person. I internalized the fear, the horror and the terror, hiding my feelings under a cuirass.

After buying some fruits and vegetables, we arrived at my second home in Caracas, where Claudia, Pedro and their son Rubén live. A beautiful ‘quinta’ located in a steep cul-de-sac street.

We spent the morning talking and making some lunch, as we used to do when I was living in Caracas. The only difference I noticed was that, in a matter of an hour or two, two people knocked on the door begging for food.

‘Tere, this is a usual thing’, they mentioned.

Claudia gave a slice of bread to the first beggar and later, Pedro gave a can of sardines to the second. ‘Pedro, sardines are for the cat!’ replied Claudia.

What 5 years ago, a can of sardines meant nothing, nowadays it’s a basic need. Currently, there are food limitations and everything counts in the domestic economy.

We cooked, each of us contributing our bit, and we ate a rich lentil soup, some rice, an avocado salad and of course, they spoiled me with a tasty ‘parchita’ juice.

One of the family cars was not working well and during the whole morning, we were waiting for the mechanic, who was coming from La Guaira (a village half an hour from Caracas), to repair it. Apparently, this person was an expert in cars like theirs and was recommended by a neighbour living next door.

Finally, the mechanic arrived at coffee time. Pedro stood up and went to the front door to show him the damaged car while Claudia, Ruben and I were in the dining room chitchatting about the current Venezuela situation and how things are going in Barcelona.

We were interrupted by the ‘girlfriend’ of the mechanic who entered the house to go to the bathroom. A young and brunette girl, wearing shining red lenses. After a few minutes the girl left the bathroom and gave us a shy look and went outside with the mechanic.

Ten minutes after, the technician finished his task by advising Pedro to leave the engine on to charge the battery. As it was already 4 pm, I suggested Pedro to bring me back home taking advantage that the car was working with no problems. It was getting dark and I did not want to arrive late. We said goodbye to each other and Pedro took me home.

 

III

The day after my visit, on Tuesday 20th, I received an email from Claudia about 4 o’clock in the afternoon saying: ‘Tere, call me on the landline. We were robbed’. Immediately, I called them up and minutes after, I got in a taxi with my mother-in-law, without thinking twice.

They were terrified and so was I. My family from Caracas was assaulted by an armed group of 3 people (plus another person waiting outside in a taxi) that morning around 9am.

Rubén was beaten hard by one of the criminals, carrying a massive gun, which caused him 4 staples on his head. The vandals bound them by hands and feet, locking them in a room and covering their faces with their own clothes, threatening to kill one of them. The robbers took everything they found in approximately 30 minutes.

When Pedro, Claudia and Rubén were telling me what happened, they mentioned that one of the aggressors was looking for ‘the foreign girl who was living there’. And I thought: Great, they were looking for me. I immediately tied up loose ends as I knew who was behind the assault…

Why innocent people are always the ones who pay the highest price for injustice?

Back home, my partner told me: ‘They wanted to kidnap you to have euros. Do you already know that, don’ t you? There is no further explanation’. My other friend from Caracas said to me: ‘Te picharon’ (Venezuelan expression that means someone was controlling our movements and passed on the information to the assailants). Whoever they were, they had us under control. But who? A neighbour? The same assailants?

I know my family was trying to hide more details of what happened on Tuesday to cure the scared feelings we all had. I felt myself frustrated, angry and in a way, guilty of what happened to my beloved family. I was the reason of that assault. Just because I was a foreigner.

 

So by far, those were my first 4 days in Venezuela. And what did the rest of the trip entail?

Basically, living like most Venezuelans: I was locked up at home since I could not visit my Venezuelan family. It was too risky as aggressors could return.

One thing the Venezuelan people have taught me is that protection is something precious: ‘You never know what could happen to you, Tere’. “We all have seen horrible things and you have to keep your eyes opened”, they all told me. “You cannot go back there, at least for now…”.

I could barely leave the house… ‘Tere, do not talk’. These were the words my closest used to say to me when I got into a taxi, a bus, when I was about to ask the price of a product … ‘You cannot trust anyone’.

Nowadays in Venezuela, everyone feels insecure, vulnerable and unprotected.

Impunity is one of the main problems in the country. And the worst of all of this is that nobody can do anything for you.

This is one of the thousands’ stories that happen every day in the Venezuelan capital, and (almost) never come to light. No one deserves living under these conditions…

 

And meanwhile in Barcelona, people are stressed and concerned about presents and what I want for the Three Wise Men festivity. Honestly, I really don’ t care about these things after what happened.

But, as they insist, all I want for Christmas is a new country for my beloved family; a country where people could live in peace. This is all I want.

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